Champ or Chump - Jesse Hahn and Lewis Brinson

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The Kansas City Royals and Oakland A's recently completed a trade that boils down to intriguing arm (Jesse Hahn) for slugging first baseman (Brandon Moss) for our purposes. Hahn is discussed below, while Moss will receive a closer look in a future column.

Speaking of trades, much has been made of Miami's inability to get a return of note for anyone in their latest fire sale. That perception may start to change when baseball fans consider what Lewis Brinson can do, perhaps as soon as this season. He's definitely a name to remember toward the end of your drafts this year.

Here's a statistical breakdown of these potential upside plays.

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The Fantasy Jury is Out

Jesse Hahn (SP, KC)

Hahn looks like the definition of a mediocre fantasy arm at first glance: 5.30 ERA and 17.4% K% in 69 2/3 IP last season. His xFIP was better (4.56) but not enough to get fantasy owners excited, while his career 17.2% K% suggests that Ks may never come for the 28-year old. Indeed, you need to dig into the peripherals to care about Hahn at all in fantasy.

Hahn made the curious decision to completely abandon his 4-seamer last season (34.9% in 2016, 0% last year) in favor of a lot more sinkers (37% to 61.8%). It didn't work that well, as the sinker's GB% declined to 43.6% from a career mark of 52.5% with the increased use, reducing Hahn's overall GB% to 45.6% (49.7% career). A good Hahn is a ground ball contact guy, and throwing nine million sinkers doesn't seem likely to get him there.

The offering's 4.5% SwStr% isn't generating any Ks either, so let's check Hahn's secondary offerings for strikeout potential. His change is terrible (3.9% SwStr%, 42.5% Zone%, 27.4% chase) and should probably go wherever Hahn put his 4-seamer. His curve produces a strong GB% (59.1% last year) and flashes K upside (13.3% SwStr%), but is inconsistent by both chase rate (34.1%) and Zone% (34.6%). If this was the extent of Hahn's arsenal, you could stop reading right now.

Thankfully, Hahn started throwing a slider 9.9% of the time last season. It generates whiffs (17% SwStr%), gets chased outside the zone (40% O-Swing%), and can even be thrown for a strike when needed (49.2% Zone%). Hahn needs to throw it more often than he did last year to bring his K% out of the doldrums, and hitters may be able to do more with it given more looks. Still, any shot Hahn has at fantasy relevance likely depends on this pitch.

Hahn could have been an intriguing sleeper in Oakland, but the move to Kansas City likely hurts his value. His .326 BABIP allowed was not bad luck but bad defense, especially on the infield. Yonder Alonso compiled -9 DRS at 1B for Oakland last season, Marcus Semien produced the same number at SS, and Jed Lowrie was below average at 2B (-2). Matt Chapman was superlative at 3B (19 DRS), but he didn't make his MLB debut until June 15 last season. He only played in four June games before taking the job for good in July, while Hahn's last start came on June 28. They coincided for exactly one game last season.

Matt Olson projects as the team's starting first baseman this season, and his four DRS last year would have represented a massive upgrade over Alonso. Add in a full season of Chapman, and Hahn likely would have had no problem bettering the .262 BABIP he allowed on ground balls last year (.186 career). Sadly, Kansas City projects to field another poor defensive infield behind him in 2018.

Whit Merrifield is a strong defender at the keystone (five DRS last year), but Alcides Escober has lost a step at short (-4). Moving Moss could be seen as opening a spot for free agent Eric Hosmer, who plays first base like he has a grand piano strapped to his back (-7 DRS last year). If the team re-signs 3B Mike Moustakas instead, he's even worse with a glove in his hands (-8). The team's outfield ranked well by Outs Above Average last season (11), but the departed Lorenzo Cain had 15 of those. Fifteen is higher than 11, so the leftovers are actually below average as well.

Hahn did a decent job limiting the contact quality against him last year, reducing the exit velocity on his grounders allowed relative to 2016 (83.7 mph vs. 84.6 mph) and holding opposing batters to a 3.9% rate of Brls/BBE. He allowed way too many line drives (25.2% LD% last year, 24% career) and more well-struck air balls (92.8 mph vs. 91.5 mph in 2016), but his .294 career BABIP should still be attainable with the right guys behind him. The Kansas City Royals won't be the right guys though.

Hahn should still best his 60.6% strand rate from a year ago, so his surface stats should improve somewhat. Kauffman Stadium also allows fewer homers for both LHB (99) and RHB (86) than Oakland's Coliseum does (100 and 102, respectively). Hahn's 6.1% HR/FB last season suggests that he has little room to benefit from the ballpark switch, however. A useful fantasy pitcher is here somewhere, but it's unlikely to happen in 2018.

Verdict: Chump

 

Lewis Brinson (OF, MIA)

Brinson didn't do much with his first taste of MLB pitching (.106/.236/.277 with two homers and a steal over 55 PAs), but the 24-year old crushed Triple-A pitching (.331/.400/.562 with 13 HR and 11 SB (five CS) in 340 PAs) last season. Milwaukee's Triple-A affiliate is the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, so altitude helped Brinson compile that slash line. Still, numbers like those suggest a power-speed combo that fantasy owners are always searching for.

Brinson performed similarly well in a 93 PA taste of Triple-A in 2016, slashing .382/.387/.618 with four homers and four steals. He spent most of that season in Double-A (326 PAs), where he offered power (11 HR) and speed (11 SB) with an uninspiring slash line (.237/.280/.431). The Rangers gave him a brief taste of Double-A in 2015 (121 PAs), where he slashed well (.291/.328/.545) with nice pop (six homers) and minimal speed (two SB).

The altitude makes Brinson's growth last season difficult to ascertain. His BB% doubled relative to his 2016 performance at Double-A (9.4% vs. 5.2%), so that's probably good. He didn't just start blindly taking pitches either, as his K% was virtually unchanged (18.2% vs. 19.6%). His BABIP also skyrocketed (.377 vs. .264), but that's probably altitude-inflated. Brinson figures to have a low batting average in the major leagues.

First of all, his minor league track record is full of fly balls. He had a 42.1% FB% at Triple-A last year, 39.7% at the level in 2016, 37.2% at Double-A that year, and 41.5% back in 2015. This willingness to elevate should let Brinson tap into his power immediately at the MLB level, but it hinders his ability to use his legs (60-grade speed according to FanGraphs.com) to increase his BABIP.

Next, Brinson is not a line drive hitter. His LD% High Minors history includes the following numbers, starting with his most recent performance at Triple-A last year: 18.3%, 14.7%, 17.6%, 18.3%. The MLB average is 21%, a number Brinson has never come close to on the farm.

A very high HR/FB can help mask a poor BABIP, but Brinson isn't dominant in that stat either. His HR/FB High Minors history includes the following rates: 13.1%, 14.8%, 12.4%, 17.6%. These are solid, and FanGraphs gives Brinson 60-grade raw power. However, they aren't special--especially the first two at altitude. Brinson's homers might be more wall-scrapers than massive bombs, a dicey proposition considering Miami's HR factor for RHB last season (92).

Finally, Brinson looked completely overmatched in his brief MLB tenure. He compiled a 40.2% chase rate and 17.4% SwStr%, giving him severe batting average downside. You could argue that this should make him a Chump, but Brinson's combination of power, speed, and a team that nobody cares about makes him more likely to be a viable sleeper than most top prospects.

Brinson's fantasy viability depends on his price. His profile is too risky to consider before the later rounds, but his upside could be enough to win your league if he reaches his ceiling. With an NFBC ADP of 343.3, the profit potential here is too significant to ignore.

Verdict: Champ

 

More 2018 Player Outlooks



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